You don’t realize how much plants have a big impact in your life until you stop to think about it. It’s one of those things that you take for granted while you are going through your busy day. Strange Plants took me on a visual journey as I turned the pages. It taught me again to appreciate the pieces of nature that sit in pots in my home that help contribute to the comfort of my dwelling space. We interview Zio Baritaux the mastermind behind the publication Zioxla and the beautiful book ‘Strange Plants’ which showcases work by a variety of multidisciplinary artists in celebration of plants in contemporary culture. I did not know Zio at all prior to interviewing her. Her answers are as thoughtful, and passionate as her brilliant publication.
Interview by Redia Soltis
Photos courtesy of Zio Baritaux
Where do you reside?
I’m from Los Angeles, but moved to France a while back, and now live in Barcelona.Barcelona is such an inspiring city to live in, the architecture is so surreal that sometimes it feels like living in Galactic City from Star Wars . Gaudi was so ahead of his time, and so was Cerda, who designed the grid of octagonal blocks in the Eixample. I’m really inspired by the apartment buildings too, with their colorful facades and wrought- iron balconies, often with potted plants or dripping Donkey’s Tail. I still lived in France while I was compiling and editing ‘Strange Plants’ and it was in coming to Barcelona for meetings at Folch Studio that I was able to discover more about the city and fall in love with it.
What is your educational background?
I have a degree in politics. I picked that major because there was the least amount of women in the classes. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to do something that was different. I always liked being the odd man out, so to speak.
What kind of jobs have you had prior to creative writing?
When I was working on my master’s to become a forensic psychologist, I worked as a counsellor in a group home for severely emotionally disturbed children, and later, was a behaviour and language therapist for autistic children. During that time, I freelanced for magazines on the side, and eventually decided to pursue writing full time. I quit my job and took two unpaid internships at two different magazines in L.A. I was pretty quickly hired on at one of the magazines as an associate editor. I worked my way up from there to managing editor of the magazine, and editorial director of the publishing house and marketing agency that produced the magazine. I wrote, edited or compiled a dozen or so books during that time.
What was your favourite childhood book as a kid?
Before I could read, one of my favourites was The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear. I made my parents read it to me over and over again. They were so tired of it that they would try to skip pages, but I knew the whole book by heart.They couldn’t get away with anything. By 6, I was a voracious reader. I remember one of my early favourites was King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, and I also loved Leagues Under the Sea.
Whose body of work encouraged you to go into the field of publishing?
I think what most encouraged me to go into this field was the knowledge that I could do everything on my own. However, from a design standpoint I was really inspired by Folch Studio’s output of work. From their past work on Apartamento to their more recent work such as Angela Palacios’ book and Odiseo magazine. From a publishing standpoint, I really like what Rollo Press is doing. Did you see A Pocket Companion to Books From The Simpsons? That was an idea I wish I had.
You have worked for various companies within the publishing realm. What can you say is the biggest lesson you learned with your experiences?
I learned that I’d rather work for myself than for a big company. Even if it means making less money, it’s more rewarding. I’m more motivated, more engaged, and I’m learning more in doing things on my own than I ever did as an employee. I’m also a lot happier. I wish I had made this decision sooner, and encourage others to do it too. I think a lot of people are afraid to strike out on their own because they might fail. But if you don’t try, you won’t succeed either.
What was your favourite freelance job that you got to work on?
I’ve done a lot of interesting freelance work. I’ve interviewed horror-movie director
George A. Romero, reported on the skate scene on an Apache reservation in Arizona, and covered Dia de Los Muertos in Los Angeles, and vertical gardens in France. But my all-time favorite had to be interviewing Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys. Through one of my old jobs, he and I sort of became “friends,” and he would call me at the office sometimes and tell me stories about his life. So I asked Bushwick if I could record one of our conversations for Sang Bleu, and he agreed. In that interview, we talked about breakdancing, graffiti, group homes, horror movies, rap music and dreams.
Was there a pivotal moment in your life that made you decide to start your own publishing house?
It was something that I always wanted to do, but I think the pivotal moment was when I moved to Europe. Though living in another country is one of the most exciting experiences of my life, it’s also probably one of the most difficult, in terms of being away from most of my friends and family. I think making this book was a way to create something, to make an object, that reminded me of home, and particularly the home I grew up in.
How did ‘Strange Plants’ come to be?
I grew up in my mother’s gardens, which at one time included water lilies in a koi pond, and at another time, trimmed topiaries and low hedges of Japanese boxwood. But I didn’t really appreciate growing up in these gardens until I was an adult and living on my own in an apartment with no outdoor space. There were plants throughout the neighbourhood—like night-blooming jasmine and overgrown bougainvillea—but it wasn’t the same. I wanted to experience them. So I brought plants inside my apartment—a hanging terrarium, a potted cactus, and so on. And these plants brought back memories and inspired and enchanted me, just like the art I had hanging on the walls. It seemed natural to create a book that combined the two.
How did you chose the 25 artist that you featured in this book?
I selected artists for the book whose work I thought was genuine. I also made selections based on how an artist experienced plants and the instinctive and unique ways they represented them in their work. I thought about how each artist’s work interacted with the other works in the book. And I made a curated selection that fit together in a cohesive manner but also made sure things were varied enough to appeal to different people. I viewed curating the book in the same way someone looks at planting a garden. You don’t plant a garden with one type of flower—you plant a variety of species that bloom at different times but work within the environment that you live.
What made you decide to ask for original work versus work already made when making this project?
I asked artists to create new work for two of the features in the book for three reasons. First, I did this because I wanted to challenge the artists to think about their work in new ways and ruminate on their experiences with plants. Second, I wanted to present new work that had not been seen anywhere else before. And third, I was curious to see what these artists, who don’t typically focus on plants, would come up with. I couldn’t have been happier with the results.
When I read your intro in Strange Plants it made me have a greater appreciation for the things that surround me that I take for granted and the importance they have for my well being (like the plants I have had for two years or the piece of art that is hanging in my living room—even the appreciation of loved ones).
I’m happy to hear you had that reaction to the intro. I really enjoyed writing that because it forced me to put my thoughts on paper (thinking about something and actually writing it down are two very different things).
I think what I enjoyed most was working with the artists and designers to create the book, which in the process created new relationships and experiences. And since releasing the book, I have also developed relationships with people who have written about the book or purchased the book for themselves or their stores, and so now it seems like there is a real community of like-minded people, from all over the world, who have come together through this book. I’m really appreciative to be a part of this.
Are you a nostalgic person in nature?
I often go hiking along the rocky coast nearby, and I try not to think too much when I do. I try to focus on the moment and enjoy it for what it is. But I’m certainly nostalgic when I see a certain type of garden or plants (wisteria, for example), because it reminds me of my mom and home, which I’m so far away from now.
Why did you call your publication house ‘Zioxla’?
Zioxla is just a handle that I came up with for social media that stuck. It fits now that I’m an expat from L.A. Though, I prefer to pronounce it as a single word, and I like that it sort of sounds like the name of a mythological creature or ancient warrior.
What helps you to focus?
Chamomile tea with cream, two spoonfuls of sugar and total silence.
What was the last book you read?
The last book I read was A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami, and the book I’m reading right now is Labyrinth by Jorge Luis Borges.
What are your top 5 favourite books?
This is such a tough question! But in no particular order, these are a few of my favorites: Bowl of Cherries by Millard Kaufman, Blindness by Jose Saramago, The Amazing of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar by Junot Diaz, and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
Besides novels, some of my favorite art and photography books include Ma Ligne by FUZI UVTPK and Street Writers: A Guided Tour of Chicano Graffiti by Gusmano Cesaretti.
Do you have any new book or other projects in the works?
Yes, I am working on the second volume of ‘Strange Plants’, which will feature a whole
new group of artists. It will come out sometime in 2015. FUZI UVTPK and I will also be opening a creative space in Barcelona in 2015. It will be a private studio where he tattoos, plus a gallery and shop. The shop will combine our two universes and feature our brand (which we are building now), books and things we have collected in our travels. The furniture for the space is being designed by Ateliers J, and will also be available. Last time Diplo was in town he said he would DJ at the opening, so now he really has to do it [laughs].
Where would you like Zioxla to be in 5 years?
I would love to be able to be publishing books full-time, and publishing a lot more. Right now, I think I can manage two or three per year, but I’d love to publish 10.
Have you ever thought of putting together an art show with all the work you collected for the book?
Yes, definitely! I’m working on that now, and hopefully it will coincide with the release of the second volume of ‘Strange Plants’.